Halloween is tricky time for kids with food allergies, diabetes

TNS file photoFor kids with food allergies, or those with diabetes, trick-or-treating can be tricky. 

For kids with food allergies, dietary restrictions or Type I diabetes, Halloween trick-or-treating can put kids at risk for serious health issues.

Candies made with peanuts, eggs, and wheat and dairy products may expose children to food allergens, and sweet treats elevate blood sugar levels.

"There are ways to make (Halloween) fun even though they can't eat all the candy they collect," said Shelby Shelby, a registered dietitian with Owensboro Health.

She suggested families may want to consider inviting the "Switch Witch" to visit Halloween night. Kids lay out all the candy they've collected, and the Switch Witch comes while they sleep — something like the tooth fairy — to exchange the candy for money, movie tickets, trips to the zoo, gift cards or toys.

Somer Wilhite, manager of marketing at OH, has kids ages 6 and 10.

"We've already been trick-or-treating twice this week," Wilhite said.

She pays her kids $1 per 20 pieces of candy they hand over. Then, she gives away the treats. Nursing homes, hospitals and homeless shelters usually appreciate a little extra candy, she said.

Shelby participates in the Teal Pumpkin Project, a national effort to make Halloween safe and happy for all kids. Homeowners paint a pumpkin teal and put it on the front porch to indicate they give nonfood treats, such as boxes of crayons, bubbles, whistles, glow sticks and temporary tattoos.

"The project gives the same experience to kids who can't have candy. Having those options opens it up to all children to have fun," Shelby said.

The Teal Pumpkin Project has a national map of participating homes. 

When Shelby finds trick-or-treaters at her door, she asks if any of the goblins have allergies or other reasons for needing a nonfood treat. She has two bowls ready — one with candy and one with trinkets.

She often finds kids with no dietary restrictions are just as interested in a toy because they've gathered so much candy already.

Shelby goes to a party store to buy bags of trinkets. In many ways, they are better to hand out to everyone — dietary restrictions or not, she said. Candy doesn't keep year to year. Plastic trinkets do.

The same is true for the kids. Candy gets gobbled quickly. Toys, crayons and other nonfood treats last much longer.

For families that deal with Type I diabetes, Shelby shared many tips for trick-or-treating.

"Plan ahead first and foremost," she said. "Sit down with your child and make a plan for Halloween night and school parties."

The joint plan needs to be shared with anyone the child comes in contact with so friends and family can help support the plan.

Children with diabetes should have a healthy dinner with protein before treat-or-treating because it can help buffer blood sugars.

Shelby recommends knowing the carbohydrate counts of common candies. Parents can find an online list at beyondtype1.org.

Children with diabetes or food allegies should wear a medical ID bracelet when they trick-or-treat with friends.

"Make a new tradition," Shelby said. "Make lower carbohydrate Halloween treats and have a party at home rather than trick-or-treating."

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